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The annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower isn’t the easiest to see, but this relic of Halley’s Comet’s last visit offers a dramatic show for those who get up early enough.

Nicole Clausing  – May 4, 2020

It has been decades since Halley’s Comet made its last visit to our corner of the solar system—and if you’re old enough to remember 1986, you will probably recall that it wasn’t all that spectacular.

A small consolation prize, though, is coming up. The comet always leaves a trail of debris in its wake when it passes through the solar system, and when the Earth’s orbit takes it through that cloud of cosmic dust during the first week of May every year, the result is the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower.

This year’s shower peaks early on the morning of Tuesday, May 5. Most meteor showers are best after midnight, but this one is particularly elusive, peaking in the wee small hours just before dawn. 

The Eta Aquarids aren’t the most prolific shower—10 or so meteors an hour is typical in the Northern Hemisphere. (It’s a lot more impressive in the tropics and Southern Hemisphere.) But the shooting stars that are seen tend to be fast-moving and bright. There’s also an above average chance of spotting what stargazers refer to as “earthgrazers.” These are long-lasting fireballs appearing to skim along the horizon. They’re an arresting sight and on a good night are part of the reward for being up before the sun.

For the best view of the Eta Aquarid meter shower, get outside before dawn Tuesday morning. (Sunrise varies by location but is very close to 6am these days.)  A view of the eastern horizon is best, because that’s where you’re most likely to see the earthgrazers. But meteors can appear in any part of the sky, so try to find the most wide-open view you can. Beaches and lakeshores are good, as are open fields. But please observe responsibly, respecting park closure notices and always maintaining social distancing protocols. This show happens every year (and some other good meteor showers are coming up this summer), so don’t put yourself or your fellow stargazers at risk.